David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Durham 153 for 4 (Jones 43, Robinson 39) beat Lancashire 152 for 9 (Croft 34) by six wickets
Anticipation abounds throughout Lancashire that Jos Buttler finally has the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their Vitality Blast campaign. His presence is something to applaud, but so far it is not going according to plan. A second failure in successive nights accentuated Lancashire's gloom as they fell to a third successive defeat, Durham completing a workmanlike six-wicket victory with 10 balls to spare.
Many imagined that Buttler looked jaded as he completed his Rajasthan Royals' IPL campaign with three successive ducks, so as much as he officially pronounces that he is "fresh and raring to go" for the Blast, Lancashire will be wary of expecting miracles from his prolonged availability this summer following a dearth in which he has managed only seven appearances in five seasons. It is easy to mentally lose touch with a county as your life moves on: that perhaps represents his greatest challenge.
Buttler's second-ball dismissal against Yorkshire was followed by 11 in 10 balls against Durham at Chester-le-Street before a short ball from Bas de Leede rose more than he expected and he mistimed a pull to mid-on.
Convert his run of scores 0-0-0-1-11 into a Hex colour code and it comes up as overwhelmingly black, so those of a mystical nature will imagine a subliminal message at work here that when it comes to the Blast, Buttler faces some dark times. There again, to a non-mathematician at least, the sequence looks vaguely like a binary progression in which the next number might be 111 or something. Struggling to connect or destined to succeed? Nottinghamshire, on Sunday afternoon, is next up, both counties are now desperate for a win, and we may find out more.
From the broiling crowds of the IPL to a relatively sedate Friday evening in a Durham market town is not an easy adjustment, especially as half of the 5,000 crowd were still queueing to get into the ground for the 6.30 start. When he played his one shot of note - a square cut against Wayne Parnell - cars were still driving behind the bowler's arm. Many missed his dismissal. WFH Fridays can't be a thing in the north-east or else everybody would have been skiving off from lunchtime.
Blast aficionados will hope that Buttler discovers simple pleasures in the competition - it is the longest-established T20 tournament that should remind him of his roots after all - but Eoin Morgan became increasingly apathetic before he called time on his Middlesex career and, at 32, perhaps even the player himself is uncertain how things will fall 10 years after he left Somerset for Lancashire for more regular wicketkeeping opportunities.
As he lives in London, even his home appearances for Lancashire represent life in a suitcase. And there comes a time when everybody has had enough of that - even if you are guaranteed on-trend hotel offerings of customised experiences, digital conveniences and nose-to-tail menu options.
Chester-le-Street is not the easiest place to make your mark, a ground where the pitches often demand considerable labour for batting rewards. Lancashire posted 152 for 9, their first six batters reaching double figures but nobody surpassing Steven Croft's 34 from 30 balls, an innings ended when Nathan Sowter spotted him advancing down the pitch and dropped one shorter to bowl him through the gate.
Sowter, who added Tom Hartley at long on, a crucial moment as Lancashire limped to 18 from their last four overs. The sub fielder, Jonathan Bushnell, took an exceptional diving catch on the rope at backward square to remove Luke Wood off Wayne Parnell, who followed up by yorking Tom Bailey.
Sowter has the second-best economy rate in the tournament to date behind Somerset's Roelof van der Merwe and he is already showing that he can prosper on this sluggish Riverside square. Durham's acquisitions of Sowter and Ollie Robinson, as spritely as ever in making 39 from 30 balls, could not have been much shrewder.
Lancashire's other England white-ball batters also had starts that they could not see through as Durham's Netherlands contingent made more of an impact than Ireland's attack managed at Lord's.
Phil Salt made a clean-hitting start then whipped Brandon Glover dozily to deep square. Liam Livingstone was more painstaking, in captaincy mode, changed gear by twice muscling de Leede for sixes towards the Health Club but the third fell short at long-on, much to the disappointment of any over-excitable personal trainers looking on from the gymnasium windows.
Durham did what Durham do on Chester-le-Street nights like this, grinding down the target with little fanfare. Crucially, Lancashire's spinners could not make the impact that Sowter had earlier. Hartley and Matt Parkinson conceded 67 in eight overs. Michael Jones' met them with comfort in top-scoring with 43 from 33 balls. Successive straight sixes against Parkinson left Durham 38 short with seven overs and eight wickets left and settled the game. Their only breakthrough coming when Graham Clark pulled over a quicker, flatter one from Hartley.
Once again, North Group confounds predictions. Defeats for Lancashire, Notts and Birmingham have left it closer than logic suggested it would be with Worcestershire making the most convincing audition so far as the surprise contenders for a last-eight place.
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